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What Is Turnover Contagion?

What is turnover contagion and why should businesses care about it? We define it, plus, some recommendations to combat it.

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Visier HR Glossary

What is turnover contagion?

Turnover contagion is the tendency for employees to be influenced to look for new jobs when their coworkers announce that they are looking or have found another job.

According to SHRM, “evidence suggests an employee’s decision to voluntarily leave an organization is influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of their coworkers.”

In other words, quitting is contagious.

Turnover in the COVID era

Turnover has long been a concern for companies of all types and sizes and they have traditionally taken steps to minimize turnover by providing a positive work environment, paying and treating employees well, having open channels of communication, and focusing on creating and maintaining a strong culture aligned with employees’ needs and interests.

During the COVID era, though—the period from March 2020 to the present—these concerns have escalated. Many have referred to the mass exodus of employees during the pandemic as the Great Resignation. In January 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that about 6.1 million employees had made the decision to leave their jobs.

Turnover contagion has certainly played a role here as employees see and hear about their colleagues’ decisions to leave the company—either for another job or to leave the workforce entirely.

Tackling the problem of turnover contagion

There are a variety of things that employers can do to combat turnover contagion. A first step is seeking to understand where and to what extent turnover is occurring to identify early on whether turnover is beginning to rise in certain areas of the company, perhaps driven by employee sentiment and the observations of others deciding to leave.

Employers should also seek to uncover the why behind turnover. During the pandemic, many reports indicated that employees were making the decision to leave their organizations due to a desire for continued flexibility in work hours and locations—and some employers’ mandates to bring them back to the office. Other drivers included a desire for better pay and benefits, and career advancement.

It's important for employers to be proactive in staying on top of employee sentiment to determine where in their organizations they may be most at risk of experiencing high levels of turnover.

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